Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
[Robert Frost (1874–1963). North of Boston. 1915]
It is estimated that there are at least 200,000 miles of stone walls that criss-cross the countryside and forests of New England. Most of them were probably constructed between 1775 and 1825, and for the most part have withstood the test of time. They snake thru woods, along stream beds, form the dams for mill ponds, line the roads and show where property was once divided. Early settlers to the region soon discovered that the rocky terrain was not well suited to farming and set about clearing the fields of rocks unearthed by their plows and put them to use by creating beautiful sturdy fences. They used them in foundations, retaining walls, and entire buildings-as well as to contain livestock or barriers to keep them out of garden spaces. They are built one rock at a time and last for hundreds of years.
It is said that when a farmer takes a rock from an unplowable field and starts to build a wall with it , it is transferred from a rock into stone-a stone wall. You will find that most stone walls in New England are under three feet tall-which is just about as high as a single farmer could lift a heavy rock by themselves.
“ Colonial farmers knew practically nothing about why and how rocks formed deep within the Earth or how frost heave and other natural processes brought them to the surface. In fact, most farmers blamed the devil for the fieldstones of New England, which appeared as if by black magic in seventeenth and eighteenth century fields….”
Dry stone walls are made without cement and without smoothing the rock surfaces to make them flatter. There are as many different styles of walls as there are uses. Larger rocks and boulders were used in fields to mark boundaries when small gaps were not important. Middle sized field stones made up the more plentiful ‘running fences’ that also created pens for sheep and livestock. Smaller stones made up floors and house walls and lined cisterns for water.
A well made wall is a master work of art-perfectly flat level on top and each rock selected and placed to fit seamlessly with the next. Stone is the oldest building material on earth. Stone and rock symbolize strength and stability. They speak of energy and of the determination of those who built with them. They are timeless earth sculpture and retain their beauty even as they crumble.
Robert Frost speaks about his neighbor coming to help him mend the wall during the springtime, which also mends the unspoken bond they have as neighbors.
Oh~ what lessons from this could we draw?
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